Alan Johnson among judges of £40k David Cohen Prize

Alan Johnson among judges of £40k David Cohen Prize

Labour politician Alan Johnson, professor Simon James of Durham University and journalist, critic and writer Anita Sethi are some of the names who will judge the £40,000 David Cohen Prize for Literature 2017.

The biennial prize, now in its 25th year, is awarded in recognition of a living writer’s lifetime achievement in literature. The prize was last awarded to poet and playwright Tony Harrison in 2015, with the winner nominated and selected by a panel of judges comprising authors, literary critics and academics. 

Johnson, James and Sethi are on a panel of judges who, under the chairmanship of journalist, broadcaster and author Mark Lawson, will join poet Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales 2008-16; author and academic Kate Bassett, literary associate at Chichester Festival Theatre; and crime writer Denise Mina in judging th prize.

Johnson commented: “I'm honoured to be asked to judge this prestigious award. Some of the greatest names in British and Irish literature have been recognised through the David Cohen Prize but there are so many writers to honour and so few generic awards to be made. It will be fun to have a role in determining the latest recipient.” 

James said it would be an exciting change of pace to celebrate the work of living writers, since he is occupied mostly by writing of the past as an expert on British literary culture of the 19th and early 20th- centuries. 

“Many literary prizes give the opportunity to make a judgement on the quality of a single work; the David Cohen prize, unusually, allows the opportunity to recognise, and applaud a lifetime's work. Most professors of literature evaluate writing from the past - it is very exciting to be able to celebrate the work of a living writer, and I am delighted to be involved in this year's prize,” he said. 

Sethi said of the prize, which has in the past honoured writers including Doris Lessing, Hilary Mantel, VS Naipaul and Harold Pinter, also highlighted the life-changing benefits of literature. "As someone with a lifelong love of literature, I'm looking forward to discussing the work of our greatest living writers with my fellow judges," she said. "Recognising a lifetime’s achievement in literature is also a recognition of the vital role that literature plays in our world in fostering empathy, imagination and an appreciation of the power of storytelling. Literature has the power to change lives, for both the writer and the reader."

The judges met together for the first time on 18th May. Managed by New Writing North, the award will be announced in London on 8th November 2017.

The £40,000 sum, awarded for a lifetime’s achievement, is donated by the John S Cohen Foundation which was established in 1965 by David Cohen and his family.